By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Censorship and context at Brandeis

The Boston Globe’s Michael Levenson reports this morning that an art exhibit by Palestinian children has been removed from the Brandeis University library because of objections at the largely Jewish institution that the work was one-sided in its portrayal of Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israel.

One-sided though the exhibit may be, this reeks of artistic censorship — lamentable in any situation and just plain wrong in an academic environment. Still, there’s an interesting bit of context that Levenson alludes to but doesn’t expand on. He writes:

The controversy occurs at a sensitive time for the campus, which has angered some students and Jewish groups with the appointment of a prominent Palestinian scholar and with a partnership with Al-Quds University, an Arab institution.

Intrigued, I headed over to the Web site of the Justice, the Brandeis student weekly, and found an article by Hannah Edber that begins thusly:

The University has once again drawn the ire of Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein — this time for its partnership with Al-Quds University, a Palestinian institution in Jerusalem.

The ZOA accused Al-Quds University of denying Israel’s right to exist and praising suicide bombers on its Web site in an April 4 press release.

“[Al-Quds University President Sari] Nusseibeh has actually demonized Israelis, praised jihad fighters and justified the killing of so-called Palestinian ‘collaborators,'” the press release said.

John Hose, the executive assistant to University President Jehuda Reinharz, said Klein’s allegations are “farfetched in the extreme.”

Edber notes that the ZOA has also criticized the university for naming a Palestinian pollster, Khalil Shikaki, as a senior fellow at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, claiming that Shikaki has ties to the terrorist organization Islamic Jihad — a claim the administration rejects.

I know nothing about the ZOA; a Google search suggests that it’s mainstream, though very conservative. Or, as the Philadelphia Jewish Voice put it, the ZOA is “so right-wing extremist a group that it denounced Prime Minister Arik Sharon for selling out Israel by withdrawing from Gaza.”

I did manage to find on the ZOA’s Web site a statement denouncing the Brandeis art exhibit. The headline: “New Anti-Israel Horror At Brandeis U. — Ghastly ‘Voices From Palestine’ Art Exhibit.” Which raises at least the possibility that the Brandeis administration is starting to buckle under the ZOA’s relentless pressure.

It sounds like there’s a lot going on at Brandeis these days. I don’t see how the administration can defend censoring art, whether it’s offensive, one-sided or, for that matter, inept. But there’s a bigger story to be told in Waltham. The Globe has run a couple of squibs on this in recent months, but it’s time to dig deeper.

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  1. Anonymous

    There is a terrible problem with intolerance at Brandeis, at least within the student population. Namely, about 75% of the students don’t give a rat’s ass about anything, and hence are almost never “offended” but are easy to whip into a mob frenzy. The remaining 25% are offended by EVERYTHING and do a good job whipping up that mob frenzy.Dirty tricks, sneaky politics, and bald-faced lies are the name of the game for a lot of political activists on campus and the University does precious little to counteract it, because they’re so terrified of being “labelled” by the student body.The problem, of course, is that while Brandeis has a tremendous “label” of being a Jewish institution, it really isn’t. Last time I checked the student body was less than half Jewish, and certainly the University has been trying hard for over a decade to appeal to a non-Jewish prospective student body. You could say that effort’s paid off…certainly enrollment has been up significantly in the past five years, although I couldn’t tell you the Jewish/non-Jewish breakdown. Regardless, it’s the worst of both worlds…you have non-Jews thinking Brandeis is this ultra-Jewish institution and you have right-wing Jews screaming that Brandeis isn’t Jewish enough.That’s what leads to such a polarized breakdown of activism-at-all-costs vs. total apathy.

  2. Candice

    Substituting Jewish with almost anything else, doesn’t the above comment dance in the triptych of the nation?

  3. Anonymous

    ZOA is hardly mainstream, and is run by a former scientist, Mort Klein. It was once a leading Jewish organization but Klein, and a group of extreme-right wing idiots took over the group in the early 90s, and made Klein president for life. The group has zero credibility with anyone with a brain.

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